The trick to staying on line is to steer with your legs and feet
When riding standing up at mid-speed, the correct way to steer an off-road bike is with your feet and legs. Usually, the terrain is bumpy where we ride, and that requires standing up.
One of the tricks to riding standing up is positioning your body weight over your legs and feet. In this position, you can steer the bike with your lower body and it is easy to put pressure on one footpeg or another to create a lean to the left or right, causing your bike to turn almost effortlessly.
Even though it might seem to be the opposite, by standing on the footpegs, you will have a lower centre of mass for you and your bike than if you were sitting on the seat. Steering the bike with your lower body will allow you to ride harder and longer and will give you the ability to ride more confidently in technical sections such as sand washes, hill climbs, sand dunes, and muddy areas – anywhere you need to maintain speed and turn while standing, or anywhere you need to stay on a narrow line.
Practice steering while standing up
To practice steering with your legs, use a five-traffic-cone slalom exercise laid out on a smooth, dirt straight with a fairly hard-packed surface. Use full-size cones so you’ll hit them if you don’t ride around them. Set up your cones in a straight line approximately 12 paces apart. While riding standing up with your weight forward over the bars, approach the slalom in second or third gear.
As you round the first cone, lean your bike in the direction of the turn and counterbalance your body in the other direction. As you proceed to the next cone, you must shift the bike’s lean to the other direction while shifting your body the opposite way to counterbalance.
At speed, you will not turn the handlebars, just lean the bike left and right. For this exercise, it helps to ride a little bowlegged, let the bike float between your legs and lean from inside of one leg to the inside of the other. At first, you’ll just weave through the slalom course, concentrating on getting your body position correct for each cone.
As you get more comfortable, speed up and try to go through the slalom at a shallower angle. The faster you go, the more shallow the angle will be and the quicker you must shift from left to right. You know you’re going too fast if you start hitting the cones. Be quick with your transitions, proactive not reactive, and don’t get behind. Leaning rearward will tire out your upper body.
Steering with your legs is easy to perform but sometimes hard to feel, especially on slippery days. To get a feel for what it’s like to steer the bike with your legs, it is best to practice it on days when the traction is high, like just after some rain has soaked into the ground. Concentrate on putting pressure onto each footpeg to create the bike’s lean angles.
Riding through a slalom course will help you experience steering with your feet and legs and prepare you for sand washes.
1. Approach the first slalom cone standing up at a modest speed and lean the bike in the direction of the turn while shifting your hip and outside leg in the opposite direction.
2. Swap these positions to go around each cone.
3. Next, speed up and try to steer more by shifting your weight, not by turning your handlebars.
Narrow paths exercise
1. Use a narrow six-inch board about 20-feet long. Ride standing up in first gear, stay as centred as possible, and instead of turning the handlebars to steer it you must rely on leaning it slightly to the right or left.
2. If your front tire comes off the board don’t try to get it back on from the side, just ride off, turn around and try it again.
Advanced standing practice
1. A fun way to practice steering your bike with your lower body while standing up is to locate a smooth downhill road like this one and place some markers on it to steer around.
2. Start by picking up a little speed with the bike in second gear, then release the throttle and gradually decelerate as you stand up.
3. To steer it you may have to press your legs against the bike, and of course always be ready to grab the handlebars if you feel out of control.
Standing on the trail
1. Let’s take what we learned in the cone exercise out to the trail.
2. Riding sand successfully requires maintaining the right amount of speed, keeping your weight back so the front tire doesn’t dig in, …
3. …keeping the handlebars straight and steering by leaning the bike gently to the right or left just like in the five-cone slalom exercise.
4. Don’t forget to keep the front end light on loose trails like this.
How to Ride Off-Road Motorcycles is written by Gary LaPlante and Lee Parks and published by Motorbooks.
It’s available now from www.ukmotorbooks.co.uk, Amazon, and Grantham Book Services (01476 541080) priced £18.99 The book (01476 541080) priced £18.99